By Lawrence Krayn
I was sweaty. With the dryness under my eyelids a dull constant aching, I glanced toward the radiator in her bedroom. It was under a fogged-up window, humming unstably. A steady flow of dry air continued to be released, turning my sinuses into barren scorches. Shit, it was hot. I wished the damn thing had a thermostat instead of just a dusty hi/lo knob. I also wished it wasn’t so cold outside that I wouldn’t have been able to shut it off without her waking up to complain.
Really, the heater was only slightly the culprit of my fatigued, nagging headache. Mostly, the culprit was sex and a receding alcohol high. It had crossed my mind that I should just bail, without waking her to say goodbye. I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood lurking behind her towering apartment building though, and I could only vaguely remember the way back to my car. The yellowish lights outside didn’t look very inviting. Still, that was probably more the result of the old Windex smudges and a misty drizzle than anything dangerous lurking beyond the pane.
I glanced over at her, asleep. Her hair still captivated me…even now, a mess, and tangled out over two mismatched pillows. They were different shades of a dull pink and of uneven size. Her snore was subtle, with legs and arms sprawled across the double bed, making it hard for me to get comfortable. Undersized scarlet satin panties clung tightly to her hips and butt, which still excited me, but at an intensity less than I’d felt at the bar four hours earlier, and now with an almost masturbatory compulsiveness.
In my half-lucid sleepiness I’d managed to find my coat, tossed hanging over her vanity chair. I’d thrown it back on over my undershirt, with jeans unbuttoned and socks half on. My intoxicated mind had actually begun to guide me toward the front door. I wasn’t sure if I’d intended to stand just outside, visible to all her neighbors through the glass-enclosed lobby, or fulfill my intense fantasy of walking down the sidewalk and getting the hell out of there. But, I quickly realized that I wasn’t going anyplace with no shoes on, and in that moment, I didn’t really have the heart to flee the scene so abruptly and without so much as a soft “goodnight”.
I settled for closing the bedroom door behind me and grabbing the Arturo Fuente from my coat’s inner breast pocket. It wasn’t as if her breath hadn’t been filling the place with weed smoke earlier. What was a cloud of cigar mist?
I had decided to meet her at that sanitized yuppie bar only after she’d refused to see me for five months.
It wasn’t as if the last time had ended in a fight. No, we’d left off in a solemn silence that felt as if a funeral was on procession along the table between us. She’d had a natural longing, in eyes staring into mine. It was an emotional longing. It was mutual. We both so desperately wanted this to work. We wanted it to work like it seemed to work for all of those unvaried suburban twosomes, clouding our streams of consciousness, streaming down our social media timelines. But each of us knew that it wouldn’t. Each of us for our own reason.
We’d met at a dive pub a year before then. I remember that I’d noticed the long braids and picturesque edges the moment she’d walked by. The guy I was with at the time had seen her on a prior night. He knew she’d be my type, beyond the look. She’d told him that she was taking evening law classes.
Later, I’d come to realize that it wasn’t like her. She was so shy and humble in conversations with me. Perhaps it was the first impression that had drawn me in so quickly, so intensely. Had she pulled me into some sort of out-of-character vulnerable state from which I’d never escape? Or was the way I’d fashioned myself with her, as some suave, cold-hearted drifter, a façade all along?
I’d gone back in by myself one afternoon later that week, after work. That’s when I’d finally gathered the courage to see if she’d give me the ever-elusive phone number. She did of course. It was effortless. It hadn’t been one of those questions that felt almost unnatural: Terrifying, planned, and consciously anticipated. This had flowed out of fluent conversation. We’d clicked instantly. I’d say since the first night. When I’d said “met”, I’d meant only our first exchange of a mutual smile. People knew “it”, quickly. That was the thing, too. All of this online dating, this endless two-dimensional catalogue of filtered photos, it was destitute in comparison.
It had been five long months. And now, I was here. Light, wood-scented smoke pulsing from the embered edge of that cigar, through my dry nostrils…giving me a vague comfort, void of consciousness for split seconds at a time. I did not want her to wake up anytime soon.
She hadn’t answered a single text. Not a single phone call in five months. Not since we’d had that dinner, going through our grievances like lists of egregious injuries to the souls of one another. Still, I had driven into that pretentious neighborhood. I’d sat at that bar, and ordered that overpriced steak because I knew I’d find her there. I recall that I did like how dim the lights were, with a subtle vividity in sparse florescent hues that seemed to spark my mood by the end of my second whiskey ginger. I wondered if I’d surprise her with my presence, or if I’d be expected to be sitting there, nodding to the obscure neo-soul, lost in hazy over-confidence and an effervescent charisma. Anticipating. Surprisingly calm.
I waited there. Another whiskey. More casual conversation with the bartender and the couple across from me. I waited in a forlorn cloud of half-thought, just like I had the time she’d left me in the car.
I’d sat in that car for what seemed like hours. In reality, it had been 45 minutes. 45 minutes of feeling vulnerable and confused. four months before we’d had that last dinner, airing out unrectifiable grievances. nine months before I’d found myself sitting in her cute and uncouth apartment, smoking a cigar and staring out a blurry window, looking at my reflection, reflecting.
I remember it had been raining that day. It was such a gloomy and gray day for an April afternoon. We were still in love then, but it had morphed into the type of nervous insecure love that only takes insidious root after an early breach of trust. She’d said she still needed to grab a few things from the house. We’d been planning on going to dinner, so it seemed only practical to stop there on our way.
Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go in. After all, it was still his house. We’d gone on so many dates before she’d told me about him. We’d slept together. We’d been an item at the bar. I suppose I’d suspected it, but I couldn’t pinpoint precisely when. It kind of leaked out slowly, the persistent delay eroding our relationship with each evasive tiptoe around it.
The funny thing was, had she told me about him early on, I wouldn’t have cared. Sure, it would have delayed us, but I genuinely possessed no doubt that it was over between them. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t spoken to women in relationships before, or hadn’t sparked up new romances from the ashes of dead ones that were not of my concern. But the way we’d so quickly gone from strangers to lovers, and the way I’d held the fairytale up against those various storybook images on my Instagram screen, equating them and allowing myself to get lost, had set me up for complete devastation. The innocence upon which I had built the fantasy had been ripped from its core, disemboweling the love.
She left me sitting out in that car for 45 minutes, a block away. The rain tapped the windshield, and the radio hummed out 80s music over a cushion of static. The tables had finally turned on me. Now I was the confused one. I was the chaser, the manipulated. I was the one left out in the rain, stripped of self-determination, chasing fiction like a naïve child. This was whatitfeltlike.
What was she doing? He wasn’t home. Or was he? What was taking so long? I didn’t belong in his neighborhood. She told me she had taken a moment to breathe. She’d laid down for one last time on the old bed…their old bed….and had lost track of time. She may have fallen asleep. She returned with a bag, crammed with kitchen stuff and picture frames. What a contrast that day was to the sunny day of our first date. Same sidewalk, same look, same car, different reality.
By my third whiskey, this one on the rocks, I started to scan the bar and the high top tables for her.
I supposed that I may have deserved the whole thing. The disillusioned affair, the five months of silence, everything. How I’d spent those years before us: preying, equivocating, eluding commitment. How I’d spent the last few months of our rapidly decaying relationship: Slowly pulling away, airing our dirty laundry, feigning hope that I knew to be hopeless. We’d burned it to the ground and made sure it could never be built back up. What a blaze of passionate memories it was now, demolished so fast that feelings persistently lingered like a spirit with unfinished business. She’d been smart to keep silent in the end. She was the stronger one.
Continuing to talk, continuing to share a bed, was like continuously manipulating a festering wound. It needed to stop.
As my eyes finally met hers, from across the restaurant, I wondered if she’d gotten my text. I’d sent it only a few minutes ago, not expecting an answer. Her energy was as captivating as it had been every other time. It wasn’t the same. It would never be the same. But it satisfied the craving and distracted us both from the hopelessness, just for a little while. These little rendezvous were something we needed, no matter how much time had passed since the last.
It wasn’t as hard as you might have expected for her and I to talk- once we’d seen each other.
There was an instinctive familiarity that drew us together, despite not having spoken. Her mood was hesitant upon first noticing that I was there; but, we eventually found a way to eavesdrop, and we wound up sitting right next to each other. I bought her a drink. We talked about the same things we always talked about, over and over. We purposely avoided topics that might dig up old wounds or threaten to derail the good vibes. All of that familiar desire, the attraction, started to spring up around the fifth drink. Neither of us could stave it off, despite our better judgements.
We didn’t talk about the past as I held her hand and we walked down crowded blocks toward her new apartment. Her hair looked beautiful, fluttering slightly in the cold breeze. We made out just out of the reach of the streetlights, in the doorway of a closed store. Once again, I pretended this might lead to something permanent, this time. We both did. We both knew that it wouldn’t. But absent all of the history, and the pain, and the complications for just a few hours, we could pretend that time would freeze, just for us.
We’d only had one more drink before stumbling into the bedroom. I must have flung my jacket over her vanity chair and kicked my shoes off before following her into bed. I pressed the last bit of my cigar down into the ashtray on the coffee table. I’d found my shoes. I’d sobered up. The guilt had left me and hit me all at once. No goodbye was necessary.
I patted my pockets just as I was about to close the apartment door. I didn’t want to forget anything. I looked down at my cellphone, sighed, and put it away. She still hadn’t answered. I took one last look toward her bedroom before walking, lonely, into the hallway.
I couldn’t even remember “Her” name.
“She” hadn’t spoken to me in five months.
Lawrence Krayn Jr. is a Newark resident and lifelong New Jerseyian. He graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a B.A. degree in Political Science, and received his J.D. at Rutgers Law School-Newark. A practicing attorney by day, Larry spends much of his spare time engaging in creative projects. He sees Newark as a vibrant hub for the arts, and is an avid fan of various local creators. He has been a musician for many years under the moniker “IL Lusciato”, and hosts a weekly live podcast on current events, entitled “The Logic and Larry Podcast”. Whether fiction or non-fiction, his writing is heavily influenced by his immediate surroundings and his own life experiences.
Featured image by Jeanelle Folkes of Jeanesque Photography